When it comes to hotels, most of us have “been there, done that” — and we have the big bills to prove it. While there’s something to be said for the comfort and predictability of a nice hotel, seeking new experiences is part of the joy of travel — and that includes where to stay. Of course, we can’t resist a good deal either — and the growing trend of budget travel has paved the way for many options for money-smart travellers of all ages.

Looking for something new for your next trip? We’ve got a roundup of the options that offer new experiences — and will save you some cash too.

Campsites and cottages

Camping doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Many major cities are now wise to this budget travel trend. In Paris, for example, campsites offer a variety of accommodations including mobile homes, caravans and cabins. You can enjoy a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere — but shuttle buses and access to public transportation means you won’t be far from the action.

For instance, at Le Beau Village de Paris, a two bedroom mobile home with running water and a shower goes for 440€ per week during the peak summer season (and significantly less in the shoulder season). Onsite services include a playground and pool — plus it’s near a train station with a 20-minute commute into the heart of the city.

If you go for this option, watch out for the extras — laundry and communications services may have hefty fees, and not all accommodations have hot water and showers.

Hostels 

If your mental image of hostels involves dormitory-style bunks packed with student travellers you may be robbing yourself of this budget-friendly option. More hostels are appealing to mature travellers with more amenities, upscale décor and private or family accommodations.

Hostels aren’t just for big cities — you’ll find them in some unusual settings like farms, former prisons, lighthouses and even castles. For instance, the Rua Reidh Lighthouse in the Scottish Highlands offers double rooms with ensuite for just £42 per night and apartment-style First Officer’s Quarters for £325 to £595 per week. (Of course, visitors can stay in a traditional shared room for as little as £13/night.)

Research is especially important if you’re a first-timer — and beware many hostels still cater to a younger crowd. (For more information, see Hostels: not just for backpackers.)

University Residences

Students go home for the summer, leaving plenty of empty beds. The accommodations won’t be luxurious — and often aren’t air conditioned — but you might find more variety than you think. Some schools offer private rooms or apartment-style accommodations in addition to double rooms. Many campuses are destinations in their own right, and are often close to businesses and attractions, not to mention public transportation.

For instance, Victoria University at the University of Toronto offers single rooms with breakfast for $60 per night — plus it’s close to local attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum and Queen’s Park.

Where can you find the deals? Look for the local college or university’s housing website and inquire about summer accommodations.

Vacation rentals

Consider it your home away from home.  The vacation rental market — everything from cottages and villas to condos and apartments — has taken off in a big way in recent years. Even if the price tag isn’t lower than a local hotel, you’re getting more space for your money. Vacation rentals are often termed “self catering” for good reason — it’s up to you to deal with any problems that arise.

What’s the catch? You’ll be giving up the predictability of a hotel, and services and amenities can vary greatly. Many rentals are offered directly by owners, but you can also take some of the mystery out of the process by working with a reputable company — like Homeaway.com which offers a “rental guarantee”.  Rentals prices can very greatly by location, space and time of year. For instance, a beach house in the Bahamas could range $1100-$1500 USD per week.

There’s a lot to know before you consider this option, but a little research can help you shop smarter. (For more information, see Save with vacation rentals.)

Aparthotels

Also known as serviced apartments, these apartment-style accommodations offer the amenities of a hotel — such as a concierge, housekeeping, continental breakfast, fitness facilities and swimming pools. Like vacation rentals, you can find everything from studio apartments to three bedrooms — but in this case, there’s reception staff ready to help. Despite the word “apartment”, you aren’t committed to a long stay. Many places rent by the night as well as the week or month.

Watch for the star rating system so you know what services to expect, and compare prices to vacation rentals too. As with any other kind of accommodation, the closer you are to the city, the more you can expect to pay. A 3-star, one bedroom apartment in central Paris, for example, would cost around €200 to €300 per day or €1,500 to €2,000 per week (according to the tourism bureau).

Bed & Breakfast

Looking for a more intimate setting? Smaller than your typical hotel, B&Bs can range from a room or two in someone’s home to a boutique-style inn. They’re usually run by families or independent owners rather than hotel chains and offer a more personal touch. As the name suggests, a tasty breakfast is usually included.

A stay at a B&B offers the opportunity to get to know fellow guests and mingle in the common room — but beware bathrooms are often shared too. Before you book, you’ll want to dig into the details such as how much privacy you’ll have, what services are provided and perks you can expect. (See Booking B&Bs for full details.)

Couch surfing

Want to play houseguest? This is a growing trend among travellers looking to make personal connections with hosts willing to open their homes to visitors from around the world. However, there’s a reason “couch” is in the title: be prepared to sleep in any available space from a couch to a spare room.

What about cost? No money exchanges hands, but guests are generally expected to help with expenses such as food — and a gift or helping around the house is a nice gesture.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, don’t go it alone — connect with others through a reputable service like Couchsurfing.org. Be sure to read up on the safety aspects of this trend and decide if you’re comfortable with the terms.

Homestays and farmstays

Looking for the “live like a local” experience with a little more formality? Not just for students, renting a room with a local family has become a part of the tourism industry in many countries — especially where hotels and resorts aren’t plentiful. It’s a chance to experience the home life and cuisine of a place firsthand. Though you’re paying for the experience, you’ll also be expected to chip in with the chores. Homestays are a good option for travellers looking to stay a while, and who aren’t particular about privacy.

A similar option is farmstays — where you stay at a working farm or ranch and get your hands dirty as you learn new skills. The accommodation is just part of the experience, and it’s something a little different from your typical city experience. 

Where can you find these options? If they’re not included on tourism websites, there are many services like Worldwide Homestay to help. Vagabondish.com has a good overview of the pros and cons in its article Successful Stays with Locals.

Home exchange

Want to enjoy the comforts of someone else’s home without the owners there or having to pay for it? If you’re willing to welcome strangers into your home in return, try a home exchange. The principle is simple: you stay in someone’s home for a week or two and they stay in yours. (Your homes could be half a world apart.) Cars are often included in the deal too.

Wondering where to start? There are many websites like HomeExchange.com, Seniors Home Exchange and Global Home Exchange to help travellers connect. While exchanges are usually simultaneous, it is possible to exchange”for credit” if you’re thinking sunny getaway but your winter wonderland isn’t someone else’s dream vacation. (Be forewarned you’ll have to be somewhere else at the time!)

Trading places isn’t for everyone, so it pays to get a sense of the process before diving in. (101 Home Exchange Tips has a good overview). Many home exchange services charge a fee, and you’ll be responsible for marketing your home and getting it ready for guests.

Before you book

Regardless of what type of accommodations you prefer, it still pays to shop around. Price shouldn’t be your only concern: think about what kind of experience you want and what services and amenities are important.

Some types involve more risk than others — like staying in a stranger’s home. While there’s always a chance you won’t get what you bargained for, it’s important to consider the personal safety risks as well as the financial ones. Research can be your best defence — read up on the pros and cons of that style of accommodations and see what other travellers are saying online. Look for sites that vet listings and offer guarantees. Guidebooks, tourism board websites and company websites are a good place to start your hunt, but keep your eyes out for reader reviews as well.

Not all accommodation types are suitable for all travellers, so it’s important to know your own comfort level and plan accordingly. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here — it’s all about fit.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Kevin Eaves

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers